Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Section Council is excited to announce our virtual State and Local Government Institute tomorrow (Friday, June 17th). We considered an in-person event, but faced challenges in finding a space that is large enough for members to spread out while trying to provide a hybrid option for those who wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.

On top of that, the overall unpredictability of the pandemic led us to decide to have a virtual Institute this year. The one benefit of virtual is that it is easier for speakers to participate on panels, because they don’t have to worry about distance or travel time.

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Robert Levan, informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, passes away

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Robert Levan — father of Section Council member Elissa Levan — passed away yesterday, April 28, 2022. I know all of us in the Section join in offering condolences to Elissa. Bob Levan was known as the informal “dean” of municipal attorneys, and served as a mentor (with incredible patience) for anyone who called to ask for his help. He was indeed granted a lifetime award seven years ago by the Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association for the mentoring and development of his colleagues during more than 35 years of exceptional service and counsel to the Maryland Municipal League, as well as cities and towns across the state.

Courts have discretion to consider moot issues on appeal

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Court of Appeals, in In re S.F., ____ Md. ____, 2022 WL 324890 (February 3, 2022), recently confirmed that, even when an issue is moot, courts still have discretion to consider it. The decision involved a “no suspension from school” probation condition imposed on a minor, who asserted it was impermissibly vague as it provided no specific standards identifying when the minor could be suspended. 

The defendant thus argued that the conditions of probation granted the school board excessive discretion in determining whether the defendant could be suspended and thus in violation of the probation conditions. However, prior to the appellate argument, the minor successfully completed probation, and the State moved for dismissal based on the lack of any controversy between the parties. 

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“Lunch and Learn” Discusses Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

At the Section’s latest “lunch and learn” session on February 25, Michael Foreman, Law Professor and Director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at Pennsylvania State University School of Law, spoke about religious exemptions from vaccine mandates. He pointed out that, while vaccinations can be required, an employer cannot, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, discriminate based on religion. 

A “sincerely held religious belief” is required for an exemption. Prof. Foreman advised that general anti-vaccination beliefs unrelated to religious convictions are not considered religious beliefs, but noted that the EEOC does not recommend challenging the individual’s assertion of a religious belief. If an employee raises a valid objection based on religion to a mandate, the employer must make a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would cause the employer “undue hardship.” 

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Virtual Law Institute to Address Police Reform, PIA

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Section will be holding the annual Law Institute in late May. The Section Council has decided this event will be virtual, and topics are expected to include a summary of the General Assembly police reform efforts from last year, as well as Public Information Act changes, as both will be effective as of July 1, 2022. Additionally, General Assembly and Supreme Court updates will be planned. Also included will be a review of recent state and federal court decisions. Watch this space for further details, and Section members will receive invitations for the Law Institute when the exact date is finalized.

Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

The Section Council committees have continued working on upcoming programs for our members, reviewing bills during the Maryland General Assembly session identified by the MSBA as having particular impact on local and state government, and, importantly, exploring ways to have more of our members involved in the committee work. 

We are now in the planning stages of our annual State and Local Government Institute, which we will be having later in the spring.  The date has not yet been determined. The Section Council has decided that, given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and not knowing when government buildings will reopen to the public and under what conditions, we will be planning a virtual Institute. 

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Md. High Court: Local Governments Limited to Authority Granted By State

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The Maryland Constitution specifies that all local governments – including municipalities, charter counties, code counties, and commissioner counties – are subject to any limitations imposed by the State. Article 11-A, Section 3, specifies that state law prevails in any conflict with local law, and Section 6 further clarifies that counties and municipalities have no “powers in excess of those conferred” by the General Assembly.  Similarly, Article 11-E, Section 6, specifies that municipal charters, and local laws enacted under the charters are subject to any limitations imposed by the General Assembly. 

In a recent presentation to a meeting of municipal and county attorneys, Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Brynja Booth emphasized that, even when analyzing what may seem to be distinct local ordinances with no state impact, it is important to review limits and requirements imposed by Maryland law. She highlighted two recent rulings in which State limitations were the critical element in overturning local decisions. In both cases, she said, the limits of State authority had been largely overlooked in the initial briefing, and the Court of Appeals had specifically requested additional briefing on those issues.

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Religious Exemptions from Vaccine Mandates Topic of “Lunch and Learn”

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

Put a hold on your calendar: The Section will sponsor a program on February 25 at 12 p.m. concerning religious exemptions from mandatory vaccine requirements. This is a topic that, with the pandemic, many of us are now having to address, so we are pleased to present Michael Foreman, the director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic and a professor at Pennsylvania State University of Law, to outline these exemptions, how to apply them, and the key standards to use in doing so. Stay tuned and watch your emails to register for this virtual “lunch and learn.”

State and Local Government Law Institute planned for May 2022

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The annual Law Institute will be this spring, in late May.  Whether it is in-person or, as last year, virtual, the State and Local Government Section is planning to focus on the major recent changes to police regulation, training, use-of-force, and investigations. There will also be a review of recent state and federal court decisions. Check back with this Blog for announcements and updates!

Message from the Chair

By Amanda Conn
General counsel, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission

Happy new year to all of the members of the State and Local Government Law Section. I hope each of you had a safe and relaxing holiday season. The Section Council hopes to continue to provide you with useful and timely programs that will help you in your practice and the clients you represent. 

The Section Council’s Program Committee put together our first fall program, concerning the Maryland Public Information Act (or “PIA”).  The Program Committee chose the PIA because most government attorneys have responded to a PIA request at some point in time and had to weave their way through the myriad of mandatory and discretionary denials in the law, 10-day letters, deadlines, denial and redaction letters, etc. 

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